chapter  9
11 Pages

A finger pointing at the moon

Absence, emptiness and Ma in design
WithYoko Akama

Imagine for a moment the sparse, inky brushstrokes that depict a fishing boat in the midst of rippling waters, and how this can awaken, for the beholder, ‘a sense of the vastness of the sea and at the same time of peace and contentment’ (Suzuki 1958, 22). According to the prominent Zen scholar Daisetz Suzuki, nothingness or emptiness are eternal and formless worlds that are beyond mind-constructed categories. Philosophies of absence like ‘emptiness’ (Mu 無) or ‘in-between’ (Ma 間) in Japanese, evolved through intellectual and spiritual influences of Taoism, Shinto, Zen and Buddhism. Rather than considering absence as removal of form, philosophies of absence take nonbeing or nothingness as the necessary grounds for being. I start from here to speak to what undesign could be through such ontology and how it shapes my relational practice. While undesign might suggest a binary system to reverse, remove or counteract the a priori of design, I considered ways to foreground plurality and contradiction to remind us all that we part of an ecology where things that seem oppositional are in fact inter-dependent. This means when designing, it is to be present in moments of no-action and passive responsiveness; it is attuning and sensitising to invisible countenances; emplacing us all in emergence, serendipity and impermanence as all transforming in the world’s continual becoming.